Instead of striving for happiness through end goals or objects, try cultivating day-to-day well-being. Because, as Calvin Holbrook explains, science shows that happiness really is a journey and not a destination.


'Happiness is a journey, not a destination’ is an often-heard saying, and many people would argue that the search for well-being is the greatest motivator of all humankind. But does this motto really hold true? And what does science have to say on the subject?

The expression suggests that humans shouldn’t believe that reaching a certain life goal will award them with happiness. The destination in question could be one of numerous end-points we're often striving for in life: that dream job, buying a first home, meeting the perfect partner, or snagging that huge pay rise you've been working so hard for.  

RELATED: Money can't buy happiness (except when you spend it like this!)

Chances are if you do reach one of your destination life goals, you may indeed feel happier – but only temporarily. Why? Because of our happiness set-point. 


Happiness journey vs destination: set-point

One theory in happiness research puts forward that humans have a so-called happiness ‘set-point’. According to psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, this genetic set-point makes up about 50 per cent of our happiness levels – the rest coming from our circumstances and how we live life.

Enjoy the ride: happiness is a journey, not destination. shutterstock

Our set-point largely determines our overall well-being, and all of us have different levels. Therefore, those with higher set-points will be happier most of the time compared with those that have a less joyful outlook (due to their lower set-point).

Going through our life journey, we oscillate around this set-point. Unhappy life events shift happiness levels below their set-point while positive or exciting events boost your happiness levels above it. 


RELATED: Is happiness genetic?


However, sooner or later, when that event becomes normalized or changes, happiness levels return to the original set-point (for example, when we feel the 'holiday blues' after coming back from the high of a recent holiday).

Likewise, once you reach your supposed happiness destination, it may not last, or something may get in the way of the perceived happiness you thought it would bring. For example, after getting what you thought was your dream job, you actually discovered it brought you a lot of negative stress due to the additional workload (and your demanding new boss). That dream new apartment you bought? Well, the noisy neighbours upstairs are doing their best to destroy your peace. Just met your 'perfect' partner? You'll soon discover all the things about them that drive you up the wall! Well, you get the picture.


“Chances are if you do reach one of your destination life goals, you will indeed feel happier – but only temporarily.”

Additionally, at some point these final destinations may dissolve all together. Indeed, as the only consistent thing in life is change, believing that happiness is a destination rather than the journey itself makes little sense. In fact, this pursuit of happiness – the constant desire and drive to achieve things we believe will boost our well-being and joy – often ends in disappointment (the so-called ‘happiness trap’. )


Improving your journey to happiness

As discussed, according to Lyubomirsky, our genetic set-point is responsible for around 50 per cent of our happiness. The remainder depends on our circumstances (10 per cent ) and our life activity (40 per cent).



However, some studies suggest that by changing our day-to-day life activity – focusing on our journey and not a final destination – we can boost our internal set-point to a higher level and become happier. Indeed, there are many smaller, everyday activities we can choose to improve our general well-being. So, here are five that you can employ right away.


1. Be kind

Studies show we can fix our happiness set point higher by helping others. In fact, according to one — analyzing data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Survey – the trait most strongly linked to long-term happiness increases is a regular commitment to altruism. It showed that the more compassionate we are, the happier our life journey seems to be. 

RELATED: The benefits of kindness


This was backed up by another study by Sonja Lyubomirsky published in the Review of General Psychology in 2005. When she had students perform five weekly acts of kindness over a period of six weeks, they noticed a significant increase in happiness levels compared to a control group of students. 


2. Practise gratitude

Cultivating gratitude is scientifically-proven to increase your happiness journey, and is one of the simplest life changes you can make as it requires little effort. 


“As the only consistent thing in life is change, believing that happiness is a destination rather than the journey really makes little sense.”

According to a 2003 report in the journal of Social Behavior and Personality, grateful people tend to appreciate simple pleasures (defined as "those pleasures in life that are available to most people”). Indeed, a study published in The Journal of Happiness Studies showed that writing a daily or weekly gratitude journal can make finding happiness easier. 


3. Meditate

Starting your day with just five to 10 minutes of meditation will help you to develop your happiness. Try meditating in the morning shortly after waking: the immediate heightened inner clarity it will give you will set you up for the rest of the day.

In fact, the benefits of meditation are many. There are numerous studies that show that it can boost happiness levels by reducing stress hormones, shrinking the part of the brain that controls anxiety, and by stopping rumination, amongst other things.

Inner focus: meditation will help your happiness journey

And, according to Psychology Today, meditation is the strongest mental practice that has the power to reset your happiness set point, thus turning you into a more joyful person: regular meditation practice can literally rewire your brain so you can become happier. 


4. Build quality relationships

If happiness is a journey and not a destination, then it’s the people that are with you on your journey that can make all the difference. Science is clear on this: you can find and maintain happiness through developing quality relationships.

Humans are a social species and need regular contact. In a 75-year, multigenerational study, Robert Waldinger measured happiness levels in people from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. He found that the most joyful were those with high-quality social connections.


5. Choose happiness

Bronnie Ware, a palliative care nurse who devoted her career to working with end-of-life patients, found a theme in those coming to the end of their lives: they has a deep regret about not ‘letting’  themselves be happy. Ware, the author of The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying, penned a blog for the Huffington Post, in which she wrote: 



“Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives.

“Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again ... Life is a choice. It is your life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.”


RELATED: Cherophobia – the fear of happiness explained



All to often we are led to believe that by obtaining goals or possessions we will feel happier. But the reality is – and science agrees – that when we reach those destinations, our happiness levels quickly return to their original set-point. Indeed, happiness often leads to success, but success does not always lead to happiness.

Instead, research shows that the best way to maintain consistent well-being is to focus on the everyday changes you can make in your life, with altruism, gratitude and quality relationships being important factors: happiness really is a journey and not a destination. 

In fact, research in the field of positive psychology has shown that happiness is a choice that anyone can make. As psychologist William James put it, “The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.” ●

Main image: shutterstock/Olga Danylenko | The fine art of being: learn, practise, share

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Written by Calvin Holbrook

calvin.holbrook.jpegCalvin edits our magazine, as well as being an artist, lover of swimming, nature, yoga, dancing to house/techno, and all things vintage! Find out more.



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Reminds me of the verse by Alfred D. Souza that goes:


"Happiness is a journey, not a destination.

For a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life.

But there was always some obstacle in the way, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid.

At last, it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.

This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. 


So treasure every moment you have and remember that 

time waits for no one."


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Happiness is a journey. I am not sure if I agree with the picture. However, I agree with the point made in the article. Happiness is not a destination that you reach, and then it's all sorted.
The picture of the journey still implies a destination, and that's what seems wrong to me. I'll keep thinking of an image that resonates better with me.

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Such an interesting article, and I think it's always important to remind ourselves that happiness is a journey, not a destination. It's so easy to think you'll be happy once you've reached a certain goal, but the most important thing is really to enjoy the journey you are on and look for happiness in the smallest thing along the way. Don't compare yourself to others! 

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The purpose of this letter is to express my appreciation for sharing your valuable insight into personal growth. Its articles like “Why happiness is a journey, not a destination (and 5 key ways to enjoy the ride)” which gives those who are struggling hope for the future, as it pushes them to keep fighting their depression. I admire your view on happiness and your explanation of how it is a journey and not a destination. I also appreciate that you have provided readers with an amazing set of healthy coping strategies such as being kind and practicing gratitude. As when a person is depressed and/or anxious it may become very tempting to turn to unhealthy coping strategies such as drugs or alcohol to provide an ‘easy way out.’ However, these unhealthy coping mechanisms provide temporary happiness and will end up making them feel worse in the end. I thank you for taking the time to provide those who are struggling, with healthy and natural ways to bring themselves some relief. 

I have recently realized that happiness is indeed a journey and not a destination, you must go on a journey in order to realize the true potential and feeling of happiness. At the beginning of my journey, when the world around me was the darkest it had ever been, I truly believed that happiness was not possible. It was only when I took the initiative to help myself and set healthy coping mechanisms that I understood happiness was much closer than I thought. I began my morning by meditating and journaling my gratitude for the day and began to be kinder to those around me, especially myself. I remember the moment I discovered the light at the end of the tunnel, as I finally decided to take my first baby step that day. I left the house to go out to dinner with my friends and actually enjoyed the time I spent outside of my room. That is when I realized that no therapist, family member, friend, etc can help a person until they have begun to help themselves. 


I would like to shed light on another healthy coping mechanism that can help someone struggling with depression get some relief. Getting yourself into nature is extremely beneficial to the wellbeing of a person, as it offers an escape from the harsh realities of everyday life. Research in the scientific field, ecotherapy has discovered a strong connection between the time spent in nature and reduced anxiety, stress, and depression. (“Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature”, 2018). Taking a walk in nature provides therapeutic benefits to one who is stressed or finds themself in a depressed state. It is extremely important for those struggling to initiate their relationship with nature. I myself, tend to turn to natural spaces when I am feeling stressed out, as the sounds and visuals provided allows me to relax and get into a meditative state. Start with baby steps, look for nearby trails, and begin to plan your day into nature. Perhaps its as easy as walking into your backyard or finding your destination on google maps. 


I would like to finish this letter by reiterating the fact that happiness is indeed a journey and not a destination. No material gain or accomplishment can provide one with true happiness, as it is a choice one must chase and work hard for. Changing one’s lack of mindset to a healthy and progressively positive mindset is vital in our journey to happiness. One can not reach happiness until they provide their body and mind with love and kindness through healthy coping strategies. Calvin Holbrook, I praise and thank you for your beautifully written and instructional article I wish I had come across this when I was struggling. I believe reading this would have allowed me to begin my journey to happiness much earlier than I did. 


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Nice article

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